GREENVILLE, S.C. -- The Furman Paladins football team will begin its Southern Conference title defense this Saturday when it travels to Macon, Ga., to face league newcomer Mercer in a 6:00 p.m. clash at Mercer University Stadium. Kickoff for the ESPN3 broadcast event is set for 6:00 p.m.
The Paladins (1-0), who came off the deck a year ago to win their last five SoCon games and claim a share of the program's league record 13th conference crown, opened the 2014 campaign with a 13-3 home victory over Gardner-Webb. The Bears (1-0), meanwhile, kicked of their campaign with a 45-42 home victory over Rinehardt.
Furman, ranked 17th in this week's Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Coaches Poll and 19th by the Sports Network, downed Gardner-Webb on the strength of solid defense, surrendering only 194 total yards to the Runnin' Bulldogs, including just two first downs and 25 yards in the second half. It marked the fewest points allowed by the Furman in a season opener since a 16-3 triumph over Elon in 2000.
Headlining the impressive defensive work for Furman was senior All-SoCon end Gary Wilkins, who captured league defensive player of the week accolades after totaling five tackles, including 3.5 for-loss, and 2.5 sacks — part of a five-sack performance by the Paladins.
Junior linebacker Cory Magwood led all tacklers with 11 stops, and senior nickel back Marcus McMorris notched the fifth interception of his career in the win.
Offensively, Furman's road in 2014 got tougher after junior starting quarterback Reese Hannon exited the game in the third quarter with a fractured ankle. Hannon, who had surgery on Monday and will miss the remainder of the season, will be replaced in the lineup by redshirt freshman Dillon Woodruff.
The Paladins could get a boost offensively if senior running back Hank McCloud is able to return after sitting out the opener with a strained hamstring. Last year McCloud, an All-SoCon selection, ran for 1,092 yards and five touchdowns in Furman's run to the FCS playoffs.
Furman boasts a solid receiving corps, led by junior Jordan Snellings (8 rec., 51 yds., TD vs. Gardner-Webb), sophomore Andrej Suttles (4 rec., 71 yds.), and sophomore Chad Scott (4 rec., 47 yds.).
The kicking game looks promising based on the performance turned in by true freshman Jon Croft Hollingsworth last Saturday. The Greenwood, S.C., product, who won the kicking and punting jobs in the preseason, converted both field goal tries from 28 and 47 yards, averaged 39.0 yards on nine punts, and deposited all four kickoffs into the end zone in his collegiate debut.
The Paladins will be facing a Bears' squad coached by Bobby Lamb '86, who directed Furman's football program from 2002-10 after serving as an assistant coach on the Paladin staff for 16 seasons. A two-time All-SoCon quarterback (1984 & '85) at Furman and member of the university's athletic hall of fame, Lamb guided Mercer to a 10-2 record a year ago in the Bears' inaugural campaign following decades without the sport. Saturday's game will mark the first contest for Mercer as a member of the SoCon, which the university officially joined on July 1.
Furman and Mercer have squared off 12 times on the gridiron — all in the early part of last century. The Paladins lead the series 6-4-2, having won the last three meetings, the last of which, a 20-9 verdict in Macon, came in 1936.
Saturday's game will be radio broadcast over the Furman IMG Sports Network headed up by flagship station WGOG 96.3/Walhalla and FoxSports 1440/Greenville. It will also be available via stadium transmitter (frequency TBA) and audio streamed via TuneIn.com. The ESPN3 live stream of Saturday's contest will be presented through the SoConDigitalNetwork.com — also accessible through FurmanPaladins.com.
ESPN3 is available in approximately 92 million homes to fans who receive their Internet connection from an affiliated service provider. In addition, the network is accessible at no cost to 21 million U.S. college students and U.S.-based military personnel on computers, smartphones and tablets connected to on-campus educational and on-base military broadband and Wi-Fi networks.
All games included in the ESPN3 package are available through WatchESPN, accessible online at WatchESPN.com, on smartphones and tablets via the WatchESPN app, and streamed on televisions through Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
Hunter Reid, Furman Sports Information